Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It seems that Paul LePage, Maine's governor (who dreams of being Donald Trump when he grows up), is claiming that 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy. This is just about the stupidest assertion possible. According to a response article in the Bangor Daily News, about 73,000 Mainers fought for the Union, so now I am wondering if the guv is confused about (1) the difference between Union and Confederacy and (2) where the comma goes in a big number. I mean, come on: as the Bangor Daily News article avers, during the Civil War, no one was more staunchly Unionist than Maine. And while about 30 Mainers are on record as fighting for the Confederacy, most of them were college students, so it's not clear if they were even from the state.

I am so tired of "I want it to be true; therefore, it is true" politics. And in this case, I'm also appalled that our governor is impugning the history of his own state. The vast majority of Mainers were not treasonous. Those who fought did so because they wanted to preserve the nation, not break it apart.

In western Pennsylvania, the KKK burnt crosses to terrify my Polish immigrant ancestors. In central New Jersey, my Dutch and Quaker forebears owned slaves. My family history is not either-or. It's both-and. I am all for facing up to history, and to our faults and errors in grappling with it. I believe we carry the weight of our family's past, as well as of our larger social, political, and cultural pasts. I believe we need to admit to the evil therein. But in the case of "7,600 Mainers fought for the Conderacy," LePage is inventing a treachery that did not exist. If I were the descendant of a Maine Civil War veteran, I would be livid.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A small glimpse into the history of fake news . . .

Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, has put his signature first on all the articles against Wolsey. They say one strange allegation has been added at his behest. The cardinal is accused of whispering in the king's ear and breathing into his face; since the cardinal has the French pox, he intended to infect our monarch.

When [Cromwell] hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor's head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it through the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything; putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale's plowboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and to the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.

[from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall]

Monday, August 21, 2017

My recommendation is: if you want to meet new people, smear yourself with dirt, put on your ugliest hat, and arrange yourself in an upside-down weeding position in the front yard. Neighbors immediately appear.

But as I suspected, everyone is relieved to see someone tackling the local weed-pit. They all showed up smiling.

This morning I'll be back to work in the doll-house: mostly editing but also doing some Frost Place planning. In the afternoon I hope to celebrate the eclipse by being upside down in the garden bed again.

Tom has made no more shocking house discoveries, unless you count a myriad of terrible electrical connections. He has, however, unearthed a potentially beautiful fir floor beneath the hideous kitchen tiles. Given the number of screw holes in the floor, he may not be able rescue it, but we're hoping.

Have I remembered to tell you that the house is on Concord Street? The address makes me feel very transcendental.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yesterday Tom hauled a thousand pounds of old kitchen to the dump. Among other less-than-excellent discoveries, he noted that there appears to be zero insulation in our house's exterior walls. Zero. Not even a snuff bottle or an old newspaper. I guess I will be wearing many sweaters this winter.

But our spirits are still mostly high. We walked from the house to downtown for lunch, and it only took us about half an hour to get there. The neighborhood is pleasantly not filled with tourists, which makes a nice change from the beauty spot we currently inhabit. I managed to assemble two compost bins and a wheelbarrow without asking Tom for any help, and cutting myself only slightly in the process. We drove out to our storage basement and liberated garden tools, a chainsaw, a come-along, a small table, and two chairs from storage. So now we can yank out shrubbery and afterward sit down and rest.

I haven't met any neighbors yet, but I hope that happens soon. I hope they like me. I hope I can finally start razing a flower garden this morning.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thank you--you know who you are--for your little notes of affection about the new house. Everything went perfectly at the closing, despite my irrational fears about having brought along the wrong amount of money, and 45 minutes after closing Tom was tearing out the old kitchen.

I did not do any gardening as it was pouring rain all day. But I did buy a wheelbarrow and work gloves. And I spent several hours wandering from room to room, trying to imagine new paint colors, re-sanded floors . . . actually, mostly not even thinking about those sensible things but simply looking out the windows and existing in the space. The neighbors have beautiful gardens: our yard is the local eyesore. There is a daunting amount of work to do, and I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning filled with worry. That's just night fears; in daylight I know I can manage it.

And yesterday I felt so peaceful listening to Tom tear out cabinets. I looked at the street in the rain. I went upstairs and stood in my tiny future study and wondered what books my eyes will light on as I lift my eyes from my writing. I leaned in the doorway of our bedroom and pictured how the morning shadows will fall on the bed. I went downstairs and stood in the big empty dining room and imagined a table set for a party and the scent of fresh bread lingering in the hallway.

Today, if things dry out a bit, I hope to begin work in the front flowerbed, which is a mess of weeds and jerusalem artichokes run rampant and baby maples trying to gain a foothold. With luck I may be planting bulbs in a few weeks.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Yesterday I received a message from a young woman I have known since her infancy--a smart, lovable, loving girl who has dealt with a fair amount of adversity but somehow has managed to rise above it and to thrive. She graduated from a central Maine high school last spring and will be attending a state university this fall. And she is heartsick about the events in Charlottesville and beyond. Her letter to me was essentially "What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?" She told me she was reading books, talking to people, trying to find her footing. But would any of that matter?

My first reaction on reading this note was to feel an overwhelming sense of humility and panic that this young woman would see me as any kind of resource in this moment of crisis. What can I, a middle-aged white woman, say to her? I share her privilege of skin color and birthright citizenship; I speak an educated East Coast vernacular and live in a cocoon of books and dreams. But of course, as you mothers and fathers and teachers know, being the grown up in the room means you have to step up and figure out how to help that young person in need.

Anyway, this is what I wrote back to her. If I should say more, please offer me some advice, and I will pass along your thoughts to her.
I think starting with books is a good idea. Learn all you can about the history of slavery in this country, the history of the civil rights movement, and so on. For instance, so many of these Confederate statues that Trump loves were put up in the 1950s as a backlash response to civil rights activities. So they aren't old Civil War-era pieces; they're direct in-your-face confrontations to freedom-seekers, and that's not history that most of us know. When you get to college, make a point of joining Black Lives Matter discussions; show by your presence that you're an ally. Volunteer with new-immigrant support groups. . . . The biggest thing is that you care, that you know our nation is in a dreadful spot, that you recognize how vital it is that we, as white people, do everything we can to stand up for the people who have not shared our easy privilege of skin color. I love you . . . because you are crying about this and because you are so brave.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Last night I had a beautiful little dinner party with two women writers--people I've known casually for years but am now getting to know better as both writers and friends. I am relieved to feel my homesickness lifting, to be relaxing into some semblance of a social life, to be looking forward rather than backward.

During the evening, my son sent me a note from California, telling me that the first thing he did after arriving in Los Angeles was to accompany his girlfriend's family to a plant nursery to buy a mandarin orange tree for their backyard. This struck my northwoods boy as hilarious.

Here in Portland, outside my bedroom window, a tow-truck driver is chaining up a wounded red minivan. A chilly breeze sifts through the doll-house, though the temperature is forecast to reach 80 later. I have a day of editing and errands before me. But I am doing none of those things yet, only staring dreamily out at the boats moored on the placid bay, only listening to the tow-truck driver crank the minivan onto his flatbed, only smelling the remnants of toast and coffee, only thinking of disconnected words.

Tomorrow we will close on our new house and life will take a turn.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At 3:30 a.m. I got up to drive the boy to the airport; and though I tried to go back to sleep afterward, I was not very successful. I expect nap time will be arriving early today, yet for the moment I feel fine. I wonder why. I suppose it's because I haven't started to think about Trump yet.

Somewhere, in the distance, fire engines are blaring. The island freight barge is beeping down at the landing. Three big mutts are rolling around in the dry grass. A corgi, who imagines she is running, is huffing slowly up a steep hill.

I'd like to say something encouraging here: like, "Maybe it's a good thing our so-called president has finally come out into the open and admitted that he's a white supremacist. Now everyone knows for sure." Or "Maybe the Republicans will finally board that impeachment train now." But who the hell knows what's going to happen next? What's clear is that we are in the jaws of evil.

So I'll give you this small prayer, from Maurice Manning's Bucolics. If you don't know this collection of poems addressed to God (whom Manning calls "Boss"), you should. They feel a bit like reading a modern George Herbert. Whatever you think about organized religion, something to hold is more comfort than nothing.
Boss every morning is a morning
do you ever think about that
everything that stays the same
like rain like grass like you
you're always Boss boss
of the morning boss of my whistle
O boss of my little song

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The fog is lifting and I am feeling mournful. Perhaps it's the effect of the boat horns, those lonely calls through the mist, or perhaps it's merely August: the burnt grass, the weary foliage. I have not been writing much lately. Perhaps the distractions of the nation have undone me, and I should fight harder against them. Or perhaps I am in an August state of mind.

In any case, I am still reading--constantly, perpetually, obsessively, as I always have and likely always will. Presently I am finishing Muriel Spark's The Takeover, and copying out Coriolanus, and dipping into poetry collections by Nikky Finney and Maurice Manning. Something, at some point, will trigger me to write. I try to be patient.

Tomorrow the boy heads off for two weeks on the west coast. On Friday we buy a house. This morning I compose a note to you and wonder what I can say that will make you feel that reading it is worthwhile. I imagine spreading trivialities like margarine, as if they are facsimiles of a richer life. There are days when all art gives me the sensation of falsehood. There are days when I write simply by habit, because it's what my hands tell me to do.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sorry for the late post this morning. It's been one of those days when everything seems to connive at slowness and distraction . . . sticky floors, no bread, no coffee, laundry piling up. It's amazing what happens when I vanish for less than 24 hours and leave two guys to rule the roost. It's also amazing how many groceries a 19-year-old can consume, after having just spent the summer canoeing 900 miles in the Canadian wilderness. Every day we are out of everything.

But do not think I am complaining. It is a joy to be in Boy Land again.

Our gig in Monson went well--though, thanks to the gale-force winds off the lake, I came very close to having more than one Marilyn Monroe/white dress moment. It's hard to hold down a skirt when both hands are busy with a violin.

Today I'm back to editing, and back to driving the boy around, and back to living with existential dread. The dread did lift a bit yesterday, when I looked out into that crowd of central Mainers, with their hats and their beers and their work boots, as they sang along to "The Weight." I had a flicker of hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Later this morning I'll be heading two and a half hours north for an afternoon band gig at the Lakeshore House in Monson. After the show I'll drive back to Portland. It will be a long hot day, and I'm tired just thinking about it.

Already, the air is heavy, and the day's heat is flexing behind the morning's mist. I am sick at heart from yesterday's news, but trying, as I imagine you are, to trudge along. I suppose spending an afternoon playing music is not the worst thing I could be doing.

The man who drove the car into the crowd at Charlottesville was born in the same year as my own younger son. For some reason this distresses me, though it is nothing but coincidence. Yet I can't stop imaging that man as a child. And someone fed that child the poisons that spurred him to hatred.
And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy! 
--from Wislawa Szymborska, "Hitler's First Photograph"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Last night a small rain fell in Portland, Maine.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Nazis marched by torchlight. At a golf club in New Jersey, an idiot played at destroying the world.

America, America. You break our hearts.

Friday, August 11, 2017

This morning, our Canadian traveler-boy returns home after an overnight bus ride from Toronto. I daresay he will look like Grizzly Adams when he gets off that bus--giant beard, big hair, tanned like a boot, and wild-eyed after a sleepless night.

Given his three months in the wilderness, he may not know that we're on the verge of nuclear war. And here all I thought I would have to do is to catch him up on baseball trades.

Well, anyway. Here we are. Every single thing we dreaded about a Trump presidency seems liable to come true. Will we saved by his stupidity or destroyed by his narcissism?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We went to visit the house yesterday so that Tom could take measurements of all of the rooms, doors, windows, and the like. In the meantime I wandered around the yard and ambled up and down the neighborhood streets. I have so much grunt work ahead of me: years' worth of weeds, a couple of horrible prickly bushes to delete, choices about badly placed perennials (do they stay or do they go?), and finally planning new beds, new walkways, new patio space, new soil, new plants. The job will take years.

But yesterday Tom scored some free high-quality decking, left over from a renovation project he's doing--enough to repair both the front and back stoops. And I have been researching city compost projects, home compost bins, rain barrels, and such things, plus reading garden book after garden book. Though I have gardened for most of my life, I've never had to start from scratch like this--not to mention that dealing with 40 acres is a different thing entirely from dealing with a city plot. As city yards go, we've got a fair amount of room, certainly more than some of the neighboring houses have. But no one has ever loved it before, and that's what I need to learn to do.

In other news, no one has started a nuclear war yet.

* * *

I am slowly--excruciatingly slowly--continuing with my Coriolanus copying project. Part of the issue is that my Shakespeare omnibus is too big for my copying stand, so I have to crane and contort just to see the pages I'm trying to transcribe. But already I recognize that the politics of the play are unpleasantly resonant with our present-day situation. Shakespeare had the all-seeing eye.

* * *

Brutus. Mark’d you his lip and eyes?

Sicinius.                                                Nay, but his taunts.

Bru. Being mov’d, he will not spare to gird the gods.


Sic. Bemock the modest moon.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Except for the existential terrors of Trump and North Korea, things are going reasonably well in my life. We got news from the bank that our loan has been cleared and that they are scheduling the closing for August 18. Both Tom and I were amazed at how smoothly this all went. We had the hardest time even getting pre-qualified during our first attempt at home buying last fall. Yet this time we sailed through without any bank trouble at all. It's puzzling, but we're not complaining.

A lunchtime we are meeting at the house so that Tom can measure everything for building-permit purposes, and I am going to wander around the yard and consider landscaping issues. By next weekend, I could be making flowerbeds.

On the other hand, we may be immersed in nuclear winter, and all will be moot.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

After last night's reading, Tom and I meandered home along the water. The silhouetted ferry rumbled across the bay to Peaks Island. Televisions flickered behind half-curtained windows. The full moon hid among the silvered clouds. In the bandstand, a dozen young men were blasting Middle Eastern hip-hop, and they were laughing, and they were slowly, occasionally, breaking into a raised-arm, high-stepping dance . . . until the cop showed up and made them be quiet.

And now, this morning, a fragile grey rain percolates into my thirsty garden boxes, washes among the feather-leaves of the honeylocust outside my bedroom window. I am feeling elegiac, for no particular reason. My boys have been on my mind . . . each thriving in his own busy, absorbing world, yet both of them, this weekend, telephoning me from their far places, bubbling into my ear, telling jokes and sharing wonders. Meanwhile, in daily life I have returned to the old days--of being one of two, not one of four. It is such a peculiar change. I'm older and fatter and greyer now, but in some ways this stage of life is a reprise of being 22 years old and deciding to move in with a guy I really like and, gee, I hope it works out. A love nest, an argument nest, a perpetual date night--such close attention to each other after two decades of parental tag-teaming. It's alarming but often very, very sweet.

Anyway, today the rain is falling, Tom is off to build cabinets in the wood shop, Ruckus is clawing the new shower curtain, and I am gazing across the bay at moored sailboats and mist and distant houses among the island trees. We've just gotten word that the house sellers would like to close as soon as possible, so perhaps we'll be homeowners even earlier than we thought we would. That's fine; good, even. We're ready to start this new project of constructing a home for a family of two.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday, Monday, Monday.

The cars bustle, the dump trucks gasp, the joggers slap their shoes bap bap bap on the pavement, the dogs-n-owners rush and lollygag. The adjunct English teacher hikes up the sidewalk in his plaid shorts and Birkenstocks, glaring askance at the motorcycle guy in the well-ironed pink shirt who is joyously revving his engine. According to today's newspaper, one of the world's largest yachts is moored in the bay this morning. It is owned by a Russian oligarch, of course. The cat informs me that he would like to grow up be a Russian oligarch.

Today: more editing, more Coriolanus, and prep for tonight's reading; a long walk, more garden-design study, and something or other for dinner. I'm hoping to hear from my younger son, who should be getting back to his Temagami base camp today. In eleven days we will close on a new house, and nothing else has gone wrong, as far as we can tell. I am itching to start tearing out weeds. In twelve days I will once again be the kind of woman who owns a wheelbarrow and a compost pile.
Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be
willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushrooms, damson, salt
marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue
sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, frog's eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night. 
--from Nikky Finney's "Cattails"

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The fog has lifted, the rain has swept out to sea, and Sunday is dawning blue and gold. I am sitting at a grey kitchen table and wearing a red bathrobe and drinking black coffee from a white cup. On the table beside me are two books: Kenneth Roberts's Rabble in Arms and Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split. Outside the window, an invisible cardinal is singing, singing, singing.

I am feeling so strange right now, at least as regards my unpublished poetry manuscripts. One collection has just finaled for a national contest. The other is under serious consideration at two major publishing houses. Nothing may result; nothing probably will result. Yet I have never been in this position before. It bears some resemblance to an out-of-body experience, and I'm sorry if talking about it with you sounds like crowing. Of course I'm happy, but I'm also non plussed.

Tomorrow evening I'll be reading at the Word Portland series at LFK Bar in downtown Portland. The reading starts at 9, which is when I usually go to bed, and maybe you do too. But if you happen to be awake, you could come down and enjoy an audience full of irrepressible young people. They have charm.

Today I suppose I will do the regular things: housework, laundry, afternoon baseball. If, by chance, the neighbors catch sight of me lugging a basket of sheets up and down the stairs, they will never guess that I have a secret life.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Yesterday I learned that my manuscript Songs about Women and Men is a finalist for the 2017 Autumn House Prize for Poetry. In early September, the contest judge, Alberto Rios, will announce the winner.

Songs about Women and Men was a semi-finalist for the Dorset Prize earlier this year, so I am relieved, overexcited, slightly hysterical to learn that it's crossed the line into final running for another prize. As you know, I haven't submitted to many contests over the course of my career . . . mostly because of the expense but also because I miraculously managed to place all of my earlier manuscripts with non-contest-running publishers. Those days are clearly over, however, so I've had to jump into the horrifying sea.

I dislike the contest and submission-fee models, yet like other poets I cannot avoid the fact that they dominate our publishing opportunities. If I don't enter them, I have little chance of placing a book with a national press. What's made this truth less horrifying is you. When I have been underemployed, transient, depressed, overwhelmed by son emergencies, etcetera, etcetera, your donations to this blog have helped me husband a small fund for promoting my work. Without it, I would undoubtedly have continued to talk myself out of participating.

So thank you. To say that I am grateful is an understatement.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Sorry I missed you yesterday. I didn't get back from my up-north visit till close to noon, and then had to rush out for a haircut, and then had to rush back to deal with the return of the window-fixer guy. And, by then, it was time to make dinner. Strange how a day full of nothing can seem so crowded.

It's been hot in Maine. In Wellington, we sat around in chairs outside a fading bonfire and wondered if Steve was going to have to shoot the porcupine that was ravaging the raspberries. (He didn't.) In Harmony, we drank coffee in the front yard and Sue told me that the girlfriend of the guy who bought our house is expecting a baby. So that made me happy. Another generation of babies will live on my dear land.

Back here in Portland, a sea breeze is floating in sweetly through the window that the window-fixer guy can't quite seem to fix. Tom is eating huevos rancheros and reading the New Yorker, and Ruckus is tunneling under a throw rug. I am drinking coffee and thinking about poems and friendship. In some ways leaving Harmony has cemented my devotion to the people I left behind. We are so glad to see each other. They tell me how much they love me, and I tell them how much I love them. When we lived around each other all the time, we didn't have to do such things. But now the intersections have become precious.

So today I will edit a Juniper Prize poetry collection, and phone my mother, and copy out some Shakespeare, and do some laundry, and go grocery shopping, and take a long walk, and afterward I will pack a picnic dinner that Tom and I will eat while watching a performance of Chekhov's The Three Sisters in the park. I'm thinking of making spring rolls with shrimp and greens and vermicelli and basil. I'm thinking of drinking a thermos of tea and watching the night roll in over the treetops. I'm thinking I should never complain about anything again.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

It was a romantic baseball evening. I saw Kevin Youkilis throw out the first pitch, watched Henry Owens pitch horribly, enjoyed the chatter of the three strangers sitting behind me (little Eddie and his grandparents were having a fine time together), speculated on the workplace frustrations of Slugger the Mascot, spent nine innings cuddled against my sweetheart on a truly wretched aluminum bench, and then listened to Red Sox wackiness on the radio as we circled through nighttime-construction detours and tried to find our way home.

This afternoon I head north for band practice, and I am already bracing for terrible weather. Thunderstorms are forecast, and no doubt, as is my wont, I will hit every one of them. But c'est la vie of the faraway band member. Neither wind nor snow nor dark of night . . . Ugh.

There are a couple of openings left in my Kittery poetry workshop, upcoming this Saturday, so southern Maine/seacoast New Hampshire/north-shore Massachusetts friends: please consider joining us. And by the way, next Monday, August 7, I'm reading in the Word Portland series: 9 p.m. at LFK Bar here in the city. I should have some kind of event poster to link to before long.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I've started a new copying project: a transcription of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus. Copying Paradise Lost and The Prelude (among many other shorter pieces) has certainly been good practice, but an entire Shakespeare play will be a massive undertaking, and I hope I can persevere.

This week, I'm back on the Juniper Prize editing train: tackling a second book of short stories, with two poetry collections waiting in the wings. I'm scheduled to teach a poetry workshop in Kittery on Saturday but haven't yet heard if there are enough participants to make it run. Tomorrow afternoon I head north for band practice. Tonight Tom and I are going to a Sea Dogs game. Coriolanus will get a slow start, but at least I've been able to enjoy the opening stage direction:
Enter a company of mutinous citizens with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
Metaphorize and extrapolate as you see fit.


Monday, July 31, 2017

from Arundel by Kenneth Roberts

I have often puzzled over the difference between a brave man and a man who is not brave, and it is a thing that will always baffle me. Indeed, I dislike to say this man is brave and that man a coward, because often a man will do a cowardly thing that requires more courage in the doing than a brave thing. There are many who have done brave things because they were afraid to do the cowardly things they would have preferred to do. Also some are cowards about fighting but heroes over money; some brave before audiences but cowardly alone; some brave alone but cowardly before audiences; some deadly afeared of sickness but contemptuous of a storm at sea, and so on. When I think about these things, my brain is muddled; and I arrive at no conclusion, save that every man, somewhere, has in him the spark of bravery.

* * *

from "Waterlily Fire" by Muriel Rukeyser

Whatever can happen to anyone can happen to me.

Fire striking its word among us, waterlilies
Reaching from darkness upward to a sun
Of rebirth, the implacable.      And in our myth
The Changing Woman who is still and who offers.

Eyes drinking light, transforming light, this day
That struggles with itself, brings itself to birth.
In ways of being, though silence, sources of light
Arriving behind my eye, a dialogue of light.

And everything a witness of the buried life.
This moment flowing across the sun, this force
Of flowers and voices body in body through space.
The city of endless cycles of the sun.

I speak to you      You speak to me

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Yesterday afternoon, on our way back into Portland Harbor after three hours on the mailboat, we saw a pod of porpoises. We had been sitting in the prow, eating tomato sandwiches, and suddenly there they were, arching alongside the boat, gleaming with muscle and spray.

It was a good day to be on the water: bright and brisk and not too choppy; a good evening to eat mountains of steamed mussels and then sit on the deck with cannoli for dessert.

Still, I felt twinges of the fear I wrote about yesterday. I think that may be a permanent condition.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fear

The birds are screeching like mad this morning--seagulls, terns, crows, sparrows: all of them carrying on to high heaven. I woke at sunrise, ice-cold in the brisk wind that was swirling through my tree-house bedroom. When I got up to deal with the cat, I saw that the moored sailboats on the bay were drifting silhouettes against streaks of finger-paint sky. The view was as eloquent as a drugstore "I love you" card. Sometimes this town is ridiculously beautiful.

All winter and spring and summer, I have been trying to find a rickety balance . . . among where I am, where I was, where I will be. At the same time I find myself obsessed with the public life of the nation: where it was, and where it is, and the horrifying chasm before us. In the confusions of my thoughts, the physical presence of now--this place, this moment--is in constant conflict with the made-for-TV thuggery of our rulers. I swirl in place, trapped between cherishing and mourning, and meanwhile the headlines scream, "Whole US mainland in missile range." The fragility is terrifying.

Today we will spend the day on the bay. I will pack curried chicken sandwiches, and fresh tomato salad, and sweet cherries, and we will meet Tom's parents at the ferry, and we will ride on the mailboat among the islands and swells. The sun will glint on the waves, and, if we're lucky, porpoises will surface alongside the prow.

Probably it won't be our last day on earth.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Like you, I woke up to learn that the despicable Republican party was foiled, yet again, in its midnight attempt to destroy my health care. I have consistently voted against Susan Collins as senator; I voted against John McCain as president; yet along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, they appear to be the only moral voices among their colleagues. The malice, the sheer evil, of the party is breath-taking.

And then there's the sideshow with the White House staff, involving schoolyard insults and middle-of-the-night phone calls to reporters and deleting Tweets for the the purpose of "transparency." It's like living in a world invented by professional wrestlers.

So in the face of all of this garbage, I am glad to have something to celebrate. Today my magnificent firstborn son, James, is 23 years old. He has spent his life raring to light out for the territories, to do everything by himself, to invent and cogitate and untangle every knot. And now, a year after graduating from college, he is working full time for a well-established network television show. He is sharing his life with a charming and intelligent woman. He has grown up to be funny, resourceful, responsible, and loving. I cannot believe that I, the flustered unemployable one, managed to raise such a sensible person. And today I will celebrate his birthday by buying airline tickets to go visit him in September.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's raining, which gave me some hope that the horrible house painter would take the opportunity to skip work today. But no. I hear someone outside rattling a ladder, which means another day spent alongside a guy who stares into windows, drops cigarette butts everywhere, splashes paint onto beautiful trees, argues loudly with his boss, and generally behaves like a boor. And you know I say this as the wife of a house carpenter: guys like this painter are bad press for the fine workers who abound.

At least the coffee shop down the street is pleasant enough. Yesterday I sat next to two men talking about rehab followed by a man and a woman discussing fundraising. Yet I also managed to finish a poem draft and copy out several Rukeyser pieces. I wonder how I managed to be so productive.

Oh, speaking of poems: I should tell you that the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance has formally announced my upcoming 10-week poetry master class, which will be held here in Portland on Thursday evenings, starting in mid-September. I'm quite excited about this workshop. It will be a treat to spend so much time with the same group and to watch poems evolve from first drafts to finished pieces. I don't get to do that very often.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Yesterday I finished editing the first of four Juniper Prize manuscripts. I will be editing the other three as well, but they have not yet appeared in my inbox, so theoretically I have today to myself. Yet given the ubiquitous and irritating chain-smoking, mess-making, shouting-arguing-thunking house painters who have been draped outside my windows all week, I'll probably have to wander down the street and find some coffee shop to take me in. As the wife of a house carpenter, I am generally the last person to complain about workmen. But even Tom is rolling his eyes at this crew.

On my way to yoga class last night, I stopped at the library and took out two books: Kenneth Roberts's Arundel (1930) and the complete stories of Jean Rhys (first published between 1927 and 1976). Arundel is a potboiler: a historical novel about pioneer-era Maine that I last read in high school. But when I learned that my dear friend Steve, a birchbark canoe builder and an expert on the Maine wilderness, also fell in love with it as a child, I decided I should read it again. Moreover, most of it is set in my beloved homeland: the forest of the Kennebec River corridor. The plot centers around Benedict Arnold's trek north through the woods into Quebec, in the pre-revolutionary days before he defected to the British. It should be the quintessential I've-got-to-kill-time-in-a-coffee-shop book.

I know less about the Jean Rhys stories, though I've read a couple of her novels before. But Ford Madox Ford loved her work, so that is a good-enough advertisement for me.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We live now on the edge of what's known as the Peninsula; it's that jut of land, just below the bridge, that forms the 4 o'clock section surrounding the circular body of water, shown in the NASA photo below. The circle of water is a tidal estuary known as Back Cove, and Portland's older outlying neighborhoods are built around it.



Our new neighborhood is located at about 10 o'clock on the Back Cove circle, and our house itself is about a half-mile inland.

As you can see from the photograph, it's hard to get away from water in Portland. Everywhere you look you see a tidal river or an arm of the bay. Further inland a myriad of freshwater rivers and streams feeds into the watershed. This is the wateriest place I've ever lived, and I say that as someone who grew up on the Atlantic seaboard. I still can't get over the views that arise at the end of every other street, around every other corner.

This morning the tide is out, and the mudflats are visible around the islands in the bay. At low tide Back Cove becomes nearly empty--an expanse of mud dotted with tidepools. It's unusable for commercial navigation; the only craft I've ever seen on it are kayaks and rowboats. But it is a safe home for waterbirds--egrets and ibis and herons--and I'm looking forward to getting know them on my new walks.

Monday, July 24, 2017

This sky is unmistakable.      Not lurid, not low, not black.
Illuminated and bruise-color, limitless, to the noon
Full of its floods to come.

--from Muriel Rukeyser, "Haying before Storm"

* * *

Two guys are standing outside my window with a ladder that may be long enough to reach the moon. It appears that they are planning to paint the building, not to rescue Rapunzel. They also don't appear to be very happy about having to paint the building, although maybe they would use the word freakin' just as often if they were trying to figure out how to carry Rapunzel down the ladder.

* * *

The forecast today is for rain rain rain. Why are the painters arranging to paint? Clearly they'd like to get out of this job in any way possible.

P.S. The house doesn't even look like it needs to be painted. However, pavers recently paved the driveway when it didn't need to be paved. C'est la vie with this condo association, apparently.

* * *

My own experience with home maintenance is more along the lines of "Quick, do something, before [important structural element] explodes." As you have heard, I am buying a house that is sure to give me many fresh opportunities for panic.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's been a long couple of days: more than 500 miles of solo driving, interspersed with hours of teaching and gig playing, plus driving twice over a bridge that made my hands sweat and my knees shake. But I managed to get to the other side, and today I woke up to cool gusts swirling through the open windows of the doll-house. The heat wave has broken.

* * *

Today: housework, a baseball game, the usual Sunday patterns. Mid-morning we may walk up to the AME church to sit on the curb outside and listen to gospel music. We're not very good churchgoers, but we do like the sounds. By the way, somebody has been driving around this neighborhood in a white van and blasting Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues." That is another sound I like.

* * *

I haven't mentioned politics for a while, which I'm sure you feel is just as well. But really: how stupid can they be? This presidency is turning out to be the plot of an Ian Fleming novel--one of the ones he thought was too obvious for publication and instead used the pages to wrap up old soup bones for the trash.

* * *

Tomorrow I start a new work project: copyediting the winners of the Juniper Prizes. I am looking forward to taking a break from academic editing and immersing myself in these collections. I'll be doing at least one book of poems and one of short stories. Maybe I'll even end up doing all four; that's not clear yet.

* * *

People keep telling me to read the Elena Ferrante novels. What's your opinion on that? I hate to jump on bandwagons, plus the cover art on those paperbacks are terrible, but are the stories themselves actually good?

* * *

Yesterday Tom accidentally bought a four-pound Arctic char when he meant to buy a two-pound one, so the refrigerator is now filled with the meaty remains of a giant baked fish. My plan is to pick the bones and make fried fishcakes for dinner. I am very fond of accidents.

* * *

While I was away teaching and driving, Tom visited a photo gallery, bought some tiny watercolor prints at an open-air sale, listened to records, acquired the aforementioned giant fish, and made a 3-d mockup of his proposed kitchen plans. He seemed very cheerful when I returned.

* * *

I am reading an Iris Murdoch novel I've never seen before: The Flight from the Enchanter, first published in 1956. It is encased in one of those utilitarian library hardcover bindings that were so ubiquitous in my youth: you know, the ones that seem more or less like book linoleum, varying only in color (though gray and green are common), with the titles stamped on the spines in a sturdy white font. I feel quite sentimental when I hold it in my hands.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

This morning I head off to Blue Hill for an essay workshop. It will be a long day in the car--two and a a half hours each way--so I will have to fall back on my Harmony-era driving fortitude. It has been so easy to stop thinking about cars.

The band's Thursday gig in Greenville went well. We had a good crowd, and no thunderstorm, and little boys came up to us afterward and very seriously asked for our autographs.

But the big news is about our house: we finally managed to come to a reduced-sales-price agreement with the sellers. This means we can start planning again instead of holding ourselves in check in case the deal falls through. So Tom is beginning to sort out the permitting issues for the sewer line and the kitchen construction, and I am back to imagining gardens.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last night Tom and I had an entirely delightful anniversary evening. First, we went down to the wharf and ate oysters and clams at a raw bar. Then we walked across town and ate grilled Thai food. Then we ambled home along the warm but densely foggy waterfront. Twenty-six years later, and here we still are, hanging out together on a summer night.

This morning I'll be prepping for tonight's gig and Saturday's workshop. And this afternoon I'll be on the road, so you won't hear from me tomorrow morning. I may, at some point today, get a chance to rework a poem draft that I'm kind of excited about. A friend who read it yesterday gave me an excellent idea for a revision strategy, which I'm anxious to put into practice.

We've still got no agreement on the house negotiations. I hope this uncertainty is over soon.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

There are still a couple of openings in my Saturday essay workshop in Blue Hill, so if you're a midcoaster who's in the mood to experiment with prose structure, please consider signing up.

Likewise, on August 5, I'm teaching a poetry workshop in Kittery, which sits right on Maine's southern border. This means the workshop will be within easy driving distance for many of you New Hampshire and Massachusetts friends, which in turn means that you should maybe sign up so we can have fun together.

As a head's up: starting in mid-September, I'll also be leading a 10-week master class in poetry, held here in Portland, probably on Thursday evenings. I'll share the link to that event as soon as it's been formally announced.

Today, however, I will not be leading any workshops. Instead, I will take the cat to the vet for a distemper shot. And later I will drink coffee with a friend. And after that Tom and I will celebrate our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary by going out for oysters. Our anniversary is actually tomorrow, but I've got to drive to Greenville for a band gig, so we're having our party today.

We're also supposed find out sometime today whether or not the sellers will agree to our proposed revised house price. I am mostly optimistic, but who knows?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The fog is so thick this morning. Bits of cloud swirl under the still-lit streetlights, and the air is humid and heavy and very still. I am recovering from a horrible night's sleep, mostly spent on the couch, and interspersed with anxious dreams about trying to get a very old, very frail, very sick mystery woman out of a convenience store and into a car. A few nights ago I woke up and announced to Tom that I was starting a band called the Civic Crows. I wish I'd had that dream again, instead of the one I got.

Anyway, here I am, bleary but awake, with nothing on my schedule except for late-day real estate business. After catching up yesterday on various obligations, I managed to schedule a read-and-write-all-day vacation. I've got a Rukeyser poem to finish copying, and some drafts to weed, and possibly a new poem to coax into view . . . though I may need to add in a lengthy nap to recover from last night's geriatric nightmare.

But the Civic Crows! Who wants to be in this band with me?

Monday, July 17, 2017

I feel as if my reading life has suffered since I've been in Portland. With most of my books in storage, I've had to completely disrupt my life-long pattern of segueing back and forth among well-read and less familiar materials. Always I've let the tides of coincidence and curiosity carry me into my reading, but since moving I've no longer been able to do that. Having a library within walking distance is a help, but it is not a replacement for being the library.

I didn't quite realize how much my reading patterns had shifted until this morning, when I tried to describe them in a letter to my friend Baron. Since moving, I've done more crossword puzzles, read more magazine articles, paid more attention to the news. Part of that is Trump's fault, but part of it is simply being book-bereft. It will be interesting to see how my reading path shifts again, once I get my library back. The books will be the same, but now they will be in different rooms, on different shelves, so I will see them differently. Every little thing affects a reading life.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

We had a lovely day out yesterday: going to the movies, looking at mid-century furniture, cruising through a record-and-book store. I bought a 1962 Muriel Rukeyser first edition for $4. We managed, mostly, not to worry about the house. On Tuesday evening we'll make a counter-offer that takes into account all of the problems that have surfaced during the inspections. And then we'll wait and see.

This will be a busy week, what with the house buying and the manuscript reading and the music and the teaching. I'll be at home till Wednesday, but on Thursday I'll head up north for a band gig in Greenville, and on Saturday I'll be leading an essay workshop in Blue Hill.

So today will be a housework and laundry day. I'd also like to copy out a few of those Rukeyser poems. Last week I copied out Frost's "The Hill Wife" and realized that I need to get back into the swing of my copying practice. I spent much of the early summer on Carruth's "The Sleeping Beauty," but since then have done very little. Yet I always write better when I'm also working on a copying project.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The air is humid and grey. The sky has settled onto the rooftops, and low tangles of cloud are drifting over the quiet bay. I have been dreaming of something I can't quite remember, something that involved tape measures and rulers and endless rooms. No doubt it was a house-buying dream, though I can't remember feeling anxious or ecstatic, nor can I remember anything about the shape of this place I was apparently measuring. I do remember that there was no roof, only high walls. Perhaps I was measuring a house ruin, or a series of secret gardens.

I have started reading fairy tales again--gone back to my fat Grimm omnibus, the only one of my fairy tale collections that isn't in storage. Outside the window a comic mockingbird is imitating a seagull. Tom is in bed, drinking coffee and reading a David Foster Wallace novel. Ruckus is hurling insults at the evil neighborhood squirrel.

Today we (Tom and I, not Ruckus and the squirrel) are going to the film festival in Waterville to watch a couple of episodes of The Decalogue, a beautiful Polish TV series, first broadcast in 1989, that is one of Tom's favorite things ever. And then we might go used-furniture shopping. If we're going to buy a house with a dining room, we'd better acquire a table and chairs. Of course we don't yet know for sure if we're going to be buying this house. This will be a weekend of negotiation and sewer-pipe angst.

Friday, July 14, 2017

After a beautiful voyage up north to play music with three friends and then a chattery visit in the dark night air with another one, I returned home to face House Buying Issue du jour. According to a loquacious plumber with a scope and a camera, the 70-year-old sewer pipe from the house to the street is on the verge of collapse, a problem that will cost up to $10,000 to fix. Today we will get an estimate for asbestos remediation, and there are also some questions about the furnace. I doubt any of these figures will be good news.

My guess is that the sellers are in in state of woe. I do feel for them, given what we went through with the well in Harmony. But they are stuck with a mess.

In other repair news: a man who looks like a Super Mario Brother came to fix the window to the apartment deck, which was hanging from its supports like a drunkard. After meeting with our realtor and signing this-and-that contingency papers, Tom and I repaired our nerves by eating tapas and gnocchi and clam stew at nine o'clock at night. Then we came home and watched the DVD of our sewer scope, which was pretty hilarious/mysterious/disgusting. Imagine a lurching, sped-up, Go-Pro view of that nasty gelatinous stuff in your bathroom-sink drain, and you'll have a good idea of our sewer video. It did need Marlin Perkins or David Attenborough pointing out the salient highlights, though. Also a soundtrack.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This afternoon I'm heading north for band practice, so you won't hear from me tomorrow morning. But this morning, now that I've finished my editing project, I'll be catching up on pesky little tasks like hauling winter coats to the dry cleaner, and calling the garage about getting my car inspected, and making an appointment for Ruckus to get a distemper shot. And I think I'll get a chance to spend some time with a few poem drafts, and to browse through the garden-design books I took out of the library, and to wake up my violin fingers with a little Bach.

I'll also spend some time getting distracted by the White House reality show, which this week is featuring Junior, TV's dumbest son. His idiocy boggles the mind. Doesn't it make you yearn for the good old days of Billy Beer?

Outside on the hazy bay, a score of sailboats twitches quietly at their moorings. I keep thinking that I should focus on this view, that I will miss it when I don't have it anymore. And I'm sure that's true: I'm a born elegist and second-guesser, who regrets everything and rereads books she didn't like the first time. But what a relief it will be to have my own small plot, my own back door.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Yesterday Tom and I signed about a million pieces of mortgage paper. Then I read a front-page article about what a fun spot our new neighborhood is, which good restaurants are moving there, how residents are angling to keep it cheery and walkable, etc., etc. I came away from the article wondering if Tom and I might be buying the last affordable house in the area.

Well, let's hope everything goes through as planned. I don't know if I have the gumption to survive any more property-related angst. I've been casting my mind back over this past year: of living alone in Harmony, of trying to sell my beloved house and land, of dealing with all of the roof and water problems, of finally ending up here in the doll-house before Christmas, and then my dark winter of homesickness and tooth problems and generalized gloom and grief and estrangement. It was a really terrible year for me. I realized that I was sad, in the moment; but looking back on it, I recognize how much I kept trying to project a doughty "don't mind me; not a big deal; other people have it worse; blah blah blah" kind of self-deprecation and self-dismissal. I would never expect anyone else to brush off their grief, so why did I expect it of myself?

We are mysterious creatures in our ways and means, not least in how we're always trying to cut ourselves off at the knees.

Anyway, it took a year, but I am returning to the world. The Frost Place helped. The immigrant high schoolers helped. You helped. And now having a sense of the future helps. Tom and I pore over his kitchen plans. We lie on the couch talking about garden design. The inside will be his construction site, the outside will be mine; but we imagine the place together.

Monday, July 10, 2017

from Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all--a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named--but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not.

* * *

So it looks as if a press editor may, in fact, really, actually be interested in Chestnut Ridge. This isn't to say she'll choose to publish it. But she seems to be reading it with engagement and curiosity; she's asking me questions about process and is altogether behaving as if the book is making an impression on her. I live in hope.

Shortly Tom and I will be toddling off for a meeting with our mortgage officer, and then I'll return to the doll-house and reinsert myself into the copyediting life.

I might look busy, but my imagination is still crowded with visions of book contracts and Japanese-style garden plans.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Outside on the prom, a mockingbird is singing and singing. A low mist hangs over the dew-sodden grass. I am thinking about backyard compost contraptions and teeny-tiny gardens and the singing in the local A.M.E. church. I am thinking about how to get the smell of five cats out of a house. I am thinking about Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and imagining what it would be like to teach a 10-week class on the essay and wondering why the Red Sox never give Rick Porcello any run support. I am thinking that I should buy another brand of coffee. I am remembering the king salmon and mashed potatoes we had for dinner last night and the late-afternoon flash flood swirling into the storm drain in front of the apartment house. I am missing my friends at the Frost Place and those sweet writing-seminar teenagers in their sopping-wet kayaks and my own dear boys forging through the city and the wild. I am sending comical-sentimental salutations to the man asleep in my bed. I am thinking about band practice and fresh tomatoes and the sunburn on my left shoulder. I am wondering if my deck-garden pansies will keep blooming until the nasturtiums are big enough to take over. I am thinking about three new poem drafts and the book I need to finish editing and the blurb I need to write for a friend's poetry collection and the thoughtful comments I need to make on another friend's draft and the reflection paper I need to read for a Frost Place grad student and the mortgage talk I need to have at the bank tomorrow and the fact that I may never get back to the three drafts that started this sentence. I am thinking about sunshine and rain and fresh strawberries and the giant ugly bug I found in the bathtub. I am thinking about you, wondering if you've made it to the end of this litany and, if so, where you would recommend edits.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Good morning! Sorry about this late post, but Tom and I have been busy drinking coffee, complaining about the road-race supporters ringing cowbells outside our bedroom window, and designing a kitchen. Tom has decided that he wants to replace the kitchen in our soon-to-be house before we move in, so we are having an enjoyable time planning it out. As he fusses over appliance and cupboard placement, I have been studying photos of 1940s-era kitchens to get ideas about period colors and hardware. Style magazines of the decade heavily promoted red and white as kitchen colors, although a peculiar slate-green also surfaces fairly often. They were also big on matching: as in bright red linoleum, bright white cabinets, bright red Formica counters, bright white housewife in bright red-and-white-checked apron.

Today will be a housework day, and a studying-the-home-inspection-report day, and a trying-to-comprehend-the-mortgage-paperwork day. Still, we remain cheerful, and I cannot wait to start reaming out the hideous overgrown flowerbed in the front yard. I've already discovered a sweet little stone retaining wall, and a peony and a lilac, and a few iris. The rest is a mystery waiting to be unchoked.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Here I am again, with another adventure behind me. Somehow I managed to kayak seven miles in two days, in choppy seas, with nine high school students, a photographer, and a Maine guide, while also making the kids read Whitman and Addonizio and Clifton and Beston and Dickinson and Hopkins and Tu Fu and Nivyabandi. What a lovely group of human beings they were . . . all of these kids with their hearts on their sleeves, all of them so game about the waves and the water--making rooster noises, and cracking jokes, and slinging teenage slang, but so kind to each other and so wide-eyed about writing and the world. At the end of it all of the kids unanimously announced, "This program should be longer!" So next year it will be.

After devouring a considerable amount of pizza, I fell asleep on the couch at 7 p.m. Now I have woken with a few notable muscle aches, a pile of emails to answer, a ten-week curriculum to write up, a book to finish editing, and a mortgage to apply for. I also still feel like I'm on the sea: my whole sense of balance is up and down and up and down. It's very strange. Maybe I will need to take Dramamine in order to read anything.

Yesterday the house inspector came to check out the new place, and we're mulling over the various insufficiencies he's pointed out--on the whole, nothing too shocking, given the age of the house, but certainly stuff that the sellers will need to address. I still can hardly believe we're so close to having a place of our own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Believe it or not, we're about to sign a contract for a house. This explains why I've been out of bed since 4 a.m. and am now writing to you at 5:15.

Yes, it's the same house I mentioned in my previous letter, and, yes, you can laugh with me about our secret lives as icy-veined price negotiators.

So we have a contract in hand, except that Tom's name is misspelled all over it, but that is nothing new. Still, I don't think he should sign a document that claims his name is "Dirtwistle."

Everything may fall through with the inspections, but I am almost ready to believe that I might be planting daffodil bulbs in September.

The house is a small shabby cape, built in 1948, located in an old residential Portland neighborhood around the corner from a busy, ethnically diverse business district. It is an easy walk to the baseball park, a longer walk to downtown, a few streets away from Baxter Woods and Back Cove.

It has a sunny front yard, a shady back yard, a claw-foot bathtub, and a fireplace with a little Jotul woodstove; it has a dining room with a frosted-glass door to the kitchen, and it has a study for me and a study for Tom. For the first time in my life, I might have my own dedicated writing room! It has a badly designed kitchen and an unfinished bathroom and a low-ceilinged cellar and a questionable furnace. It has dog crap all over the back yard and a tumbledown stoop. It is a two-minute walk away from a Somali restaurant named Mini-Mogadishu, which advertises itself as serving something called "chicken sugar." I cannot wait to try it.

Meanwhile, Happy Independence Day. Or Dependence Day. I'm not sure how to think of it. Shortly, I'm told, the doll-house apartment will be surrounded by 100,000 revelers. Our downstairs neighbor says it will be "Woodstock with sparklers," which does sound exciting. Last night Tom and I went across the street to check out the Portland Symphony stage set up in the parking lot and to admire all the temporary fencing and convenient trash cans and portable toilets and such. We are ready for a spectacle.

You won't hear again from me until Friday because tomorrow, bright and early, I'm off to write 'n' kayak with a passel of high schoolers. No doubt I'll have some fine tales to share when I return.

Monday, July 3, 2017

I apologize for not writing yesterday, but on Saturday Tom and I immediately became sucked into house-buying drama. We went to an open house, decided to make an offer, and actually managed to get noticed and receive a counter-offer, which we did not accept. So while our original offer is still on the table, we're both assuming that someone else will get the house.

That would make house number 3 that we've lost, though we could have had this one if we'd been willing to pay more than the asking price. However, unlike our state of mind in the previous two situations, we're both pretty calm about this one. For me, still being on a Frost Place high has helped. I feel regretful but not at all hopeless. As I wrote to you last week, I think, finally, I'm beginning to move past my homesickness. And much of that grief was impelling me toward clutching some replacement to my heart. I'm settling into a broader sense of affection for where I am and perhaps that's also allowing me to relax. We will live somewhere, someday. And who knows? Maybe this house will come through after all.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Good morning, good morning!

The fog is thick here by the bay, and the air is heavy and warm. Dogs and their walkers traverse the sidewalks in slow contemplation . . . none of those brisk autumn trots today.

Today Tom and I will look at a house. Afterward I'll be washing piles of laundry, and baking some bread, and scrubbing the toilet and the floors, and listening to afternoon baseball. Meanwhile, the poem drafts I wrote in Aisha's workshop will rest in my notebook like sweet secrets.

Last night, over steamers and salad and lemon gelato, and I told Tom that maybe I'm feeling less homesick now. The moment was small point of happiness for both of us. And by small I mean important.



Friday, June 30, 2017

In gratitude: The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching

I will attempt to speak coherently about this past week, but please forgive me if I splutter and spit and incorporate mixed metaphors and dangling modifiers and use unintelligible pronouns. The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching was transformative, but right now I also feel as if I have been soaring enthusiastically among the mountains and stars and have just now noticed that I have a fuel leak. Pardon me while I crash-land on your golf course.

Anyway. Kerrin McCadden, my new associate director: a queen among women, a queen among teachers. Matthew Olzmann and Matthew Lippman, our tag-team visiting writer duo: watching them was a lesson in the way in which open hearts and engaged minds allow us to channel our own crazy habits and histories into the work we do in the classroom and in the world. Kamilah Aisha Moon, this year's director of the Writing Intensive: peace and gravitas, anger and forgiveness, deep attention and patience . . . an ineffable calm, an ineffable unrest. She has changed my life as a writer.

And the participants . . . I can't even begin to untangle the web of their beauties. Career teachers speaking with so much love to young teachers. Old friends opening their arms to new friends. This sounds so corny and dumb. But it was not; it was not at all. Intellectual engagement is emotional engagement. Again and again, our beloved colleagues demonstrate this truth.

I have directed this program for half a decade now. What a privilege it has been to help preserve this home of so many souls. Forgive the sentimental language. It circles some deeper well. You could call it magic. You could call it the clear and cloudy gaze. You could call it the poem.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Everything is beautiful in the White Mountains, if slightly too cold. Two thirds of my visiting faculty is named Matthew. I read my Vietnam poem in the barn last night. Someone spotted a bear sitting across the road in a boat. However, there's been no sign of the groundhog. We are all beginning to reach a point of ecstatic exhaustion. That accounts for my sentence structure in this letter.

Saturday, June 24, 2017



Here I lie, on the bed in the little downstairs room at Robert Frost's house. The curtains puff in and out, in and out. The fan flutters. Tourists squeak up and down the stairs beyond my closed door.

Siesta time, after a long day, always the hardest day: new people, a new dance. I chose a difficult poem this year, Frost's "The Master Speed," a poem that in some ways is hard to love. But the dance itself was love, and the dance was easy to love: the conversation, in and among and through, this curious artifact, the poem.

So now here I lie, on the bed in the little downstairs room. The breeze brushes my ankles, lifts the edges of my hair.

Friday, June 23, 2017

This morning I will try to figure out what to pack for the Frost Place (impossible) and this afternoon I will drive there. Google-Ann insists that Portland is only 2-1/2 hours from Franconia, which is hard to believe. The drive from Harmony took 4 hours, and I have that length of time stuck in my geographical consciousness.

So today's life will be a new drive, new scenery, a new associate director, but the same old bear bumbling among the lupines. As usual, I may or may not have time to write to you this week; and even if I do, you won't be hearing from me in the mornings. Those are the times of insanity . . . trying to deal with coffee-urn mishaps, trying to find the spare rolls of toilet paper, trying to chase the bird out of the barn. . . . Mid-afternoon is the siesta time, when all toilet-paper problems are handled by the museum docent and I can lie in my stuffy little Frost-child bedroom peacefully listening to tourists clump up and down the stairs.

I almost forgot to update you on last night's adventure, my first-ever writers' group, which was a rousing success. We did have a good time together, and the place we met was comic--a sort of pseudo-Algonquin hotel bar, populated by bald men in polo shirts, and a furtive waitress who, after showing us the specials' menu, whispered, "I wouldn't order the soup. It tastes strange."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I woke up this morning to a flurry of Frost Place emails--all good, all good--and the forecast is filled with mist and rain, per usual, and my friend Ruth tells me there's rumored to be a 300-pound bear roaming the homestead, and my friend Andrea sends her best wishes and hopes that no mice fall on any participants this year, and I am frantically gathering poems and paperwork and trying to figure out how to drive from Portland to Franconia, which I have never done before, and in the meantime, the beautiful week awaits.

So today is haircut day, and also finishing my syllabus for July's environmental writing seminar, and checking my violin strings, and answering more Frost Place emails and phone calls, and reading some prose manuscripts in preparation for my first-ever venture into a writing group this evening. I am nervous about this writing group, for no good reason, given that it's composed of only two other people, both of whom I like and respect. And I would like to have less of a head cold. But the Fates say no.

However, you will probably be pleased to learn that I overheard someone on the street ask a friend, "How do you get the smell of patchouli out of an apartment?"

Some mysteries cannot be solved.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rain and thunderstorms are forecast for today, and already I feel the portents of a heavy wet heat. The arugula seeds I planted three days ago are sprouting. Our local male cardinal is whisking among the locust trees, and sodden joggers amble down the sidewalk.

We looked at more houses yesterday, and I am feeling pessimistic about ever finding anything that suits us . . . or, more properly, suits Tom because he is way fussier than I am. Maybe he will find something while I am at the Frost Place, and I will come home to discover that the shopping ordeal is over. That would be the best-case scenario for me. But I doubt it will happen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My parents drove home yesterday, and I instantly came down with a sore throat and had to take two naps. On the bright side, I did get a call from my younger son, who was bubbling over with joy: the administrators of the camp where he works have assigned him to a trip to Hudson Bay. So he'll spend 6 weeks canoeing up the Winisk River into Polar Bear Provincial Park. I am trying not to worry too much about those polar bears. But what a trip! . . . into the tundra, among the tiny Cree settlements. "And I even get paid!" he crowed.

Here's how the Ontario Park Service describes the park:
Remote, and accessible only by air, Ontario’s largest and most northerly park features unspoiled low-lying tundra. Sub-arctic conditions prevail in the park, which is the domain of woodland caribou, moose, marten, fox, beaver, goose, black bear, and polar bear. Seals, walruses, beluga and white whales frequent coastal and esturial areas. As many as 200 polar bears lumber through coastal areas at certain times. The peak period is early November. In late spring, hundreds of species of bird descend upon the region. White geese can be seen rising gracefully above the sear barren. Until roughly 4000 years ago, the mid-Silurian limestone bedrock (450 million years old) here was submerged beneath the Tyrrell Sea, a massive body of water that has retreated into the present Hudson and James Bays. Postglacial gravels and sands are overlain by a layer of sedimentary clay. The land is basically flat with a few inland ridges that indicate the location of former shorelines. It tends to flood when the ice breaks up in late spring. No longer oppressed by the weight of mega-glaciers, the land is slowly rising at a rate estimated at 1.2 m per century. Caribou lichen, reindeer and sphagnum moss grow along the tundra. This is considered the most temperately located mainland tundra in the world. The simple plant cover decomposes into the uppermost layers of the peat soils, bogs, and muskeg that carpet the terrain, much of which is given to permafrost. The treeline encircles the bays like a necklace. North of this invisible limit, no trees grow. South of the line, stunted willow, spruce and tamarack masquerade as scrub, gradually rising in height, with distance travelled south. Lapland rhododendron, crowberry, and mountain cranberry also flourish here. In early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water. Archeologists have determined that Algonquian people lived here perhaps 1000 years ago. Their descendents are the present-day Cree who reside in the coastal settlement of Winisk. 
Park Facilities and Activities: There are no visitors’ facilities. Landing permits must be obtained in advance for each of the park’s four airstrips. The only evidence of human habitation in the park is an abandoned radar station, part of a former military defence line. It consists of squat metal buildings, oil tanks, radio towers, and a few radar dishes and a landing airstrip. Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality. They should bring at least one week’s extra supplies in case their departure is delayed due to bad weather. Tents should not rise any higher than necessary, due to the possibility of strong winds. 
Location: On the western shore of Hudson Bay, above James Bay, in the far northern area of the province.
"Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality." Those are not words to calm a mother's nerves. Nonetheless, I kind of wish I could go too. I'm quite taken with the idea that, "in early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water." I can't even imagine that water.

The Cree settlement Peawanuck, at the edge of the park. That's a Catholic church in the teepee,
and those are the Northern Lights behind it.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Yesterday Tom and I took my parents on a 3-hour mailboat ride among the Casco Bay islands. And then in the evening they all came to my reading in Westbrook. I think it went well; I hope it went well. One never knows what will happen with a voice.

And now I enter the downward rush to the Frost Place. This will be a week of frantic editing, and frantic paperwork, and frantic buying of toothpaste and face cream, and frantic making sure I'm leaving Tom with enough catfood/toilet paper/bread/clean underwear, which is stupid because the man is perfectly capable of shopping and doing his laundry. But stupid is one of my character traits.

At the Frost Place I know for sure we will have 21 participants, 3 guest faculty members, 2 staff faculty members, 2 office staff members, 1 teaching fellow, and 1 groundhog. The remaining visitors are unknown, though I suspect that several will be ticks and one will be the lawnmower guy who every year drowns out a presentation and has to be chased off the premises. One year we had a phone call from a man who claimed to be the uncle of the next Yeats. But the next Yeats never showed up, though we kept an eye out for him.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Yesterday my parents and I spent the day at Winslow Homer's studio at Prout's Neck, then wandered through the Portland Museum's American art collection, and eventually met up with Tom for dinner. Today, if the fog lifts, the four of us will go on a ferry ride among the Casco Bay islands, and afterward we'll make fish chowder and drive out to my poetry reading in Westbrook (Lowry's Lodge Poetry Series, at the Continuum for Creativity, 863 Main Street).

Thus, at this moment, I am drinking black coffee and preparing to sort through poems. I'll be reading a mix of pieces from my two manuscripts, Chestnut Ridge and Songs about Women and Men, and I suspect that my co-reader, Adrian Blevins, will be also be sharing some of her Appalachian-based work. It will be a mountain evening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.

* * *

From "Iraq," by a high school senior and recent immigrant

Always when I think about my country I imagine war
or the destroyed places.
Not only the picture, the feeling too.
When I think about war and what happened it makes
strange feelings inside me--
fear, weakness, and it hurts
at the same time.
Because I was born with war and the destroyed places,
and with different religions fighting about nothing important.
It's really hard to have this feeling.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I have another poem featured today at Vox Populi.

Many of the images/phrases in this poem were triggered by mug shots released by the Somerset County Sheriff's Office--specifically, the slogans on the t-shirts in those photos. It was also triggered by Blake's long poem "America: A Prophecy," though an editorial change makes that less clear. My original version spells the final noun "New-England," an attempt to maintain a Blakean echo. I'm going to ask the editor to reinsert the hyphen, but till then you will have to imagine it for yourself.

Update: The hyphen is back! And now that you've seen both versions, which way do you prefer it?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A male cardinal been visiting the locust tree next to my bedroom window. I have not seen his mate, so I presume she is nesting somewhere nearby. But he is out and about, whistling and preening and cocking his scarlet head.

In Harmony I rarely saw cardinals, though we did have plenty of color in the summertime--purple finches, goldfinches, rose-breasted grosbeaks, an occasional indigo bunting. We did not have any locust trees, and I am learning to love this one beside the window--all feathery foliage and delicate sweep. The cardinal looks extremely handsome in its dappled shade.

Finally the heat has broken. The air is dry and cool. A small breeze rocks the locust tree. I hear a mockingbird singing. The people on the sidewalks are running or walking or dawdling. The cars are spinning down the highways. The dogs are rolling in the dew.

A tiny vase of yellow pansies sits on my kitchen table. I grew them myself, in my tiny deck garden. That is better than no harvest at all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yesterday's house viewings: One decaying bungalow that needs to be stripped down to the studs and completely reconstructed. (No.) One teeny-tiny cape heavily scented with Glade, decorated with American flags, warrened with bizarre add-ons (e.g., a washer-dryer closet cut into the garage), and no visible way to access the furnace. (No.) 

This evening we get a day off from house shopping. Instead, I'm going to drive to my yoga class because I don't think I can walk four miles round trip in 90-degree heat and also manage to stay alive during the class. For some reason, this weather has squelched me. I wonder if there's some kind of coastal ozone thing that's making me limper than usual. Fortunately, after today the heat is supposed to break, and by the weekend we'll return to regular old Maine dampness.

On Saturday evening I'll be reading with Adrian Blevins in the Lowry's Lodge Poetry Series, 7 p.m., at the Continuum for Creativity on Main Street in Westbrook. Adrian is a creative writing professor at Colby and she's originally from Appalachian Virginia. So expect some mountain poems from both of us. You'll also get a chance to lay eyes on my parents, who will be visiting us over the weekend. I tried to convince them to do something more interesting than attend my reading, but they insisted.

Today: more editing, more ice tea, more torpid cats, more exhausted husbands, more dinners at 8:30 p.m. to avoid heating up the doll-house. More small winds, like blessings.
Summer Wind 
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) 
It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sorry I didn't write to you yesterday. We had company in the morning, and then we went to look at a house, and then we went for a walk into town and I about died from the 90-degree heat and had to lie on the couch in front of the fan to recover. And then I made spring rolls with shrimp and fresh lettuce. And then I went to bed and attempted to sleep, and eventually I sort of did.

Today looks to be more of the same, except worse, because poor Tom will have to build things in the 90-degree heat. It will not be a good day to be a laborer.

Meanwhile, I will edit a manuscript and pull things together early for a cold supper late. We are going out to look at a couple of other houses this evening. Undoubtedly it will be another exercise in futility. It is difficult to feel optimistic about house shopping, given last fall's debacles. On the other hand, it is fun to look at other people's stuff. For instance, in yesterday's house we saw a record titled How to Teach Your Parrot to Speak.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

We slept with the windows wide open, we woke up late, we drank coffee in bed and perused real estate listings, and now we are upright, watching the sun shadows and the dog walkers, trying to unplug the bathroom drain, and looking forward to the arrival of our weekend guest. Today will be warm, tomorrow will be warmer, and perhaps it is not silly to imagine that summer will visit Maine after all. Yesterday I purloined a tiny spray of beach roses from the park, and today I'm only slightly too cold in this sundress I'm wearing. I could make ice tea this morning, or ceviche, or strawberries and cream! But instead I'll focus on vacuuming the cat fur off the guest bed, meanwhile hoping the relatives of the large weird bug I killed don't show up in the bathtub looking for him. I am not especially squeamish, but that large weird bug had an awful lot of legs. Maybe if I'd been wearing my glasses, he would have looked less monstrous. But what's done is done.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Okay, I'm quite irritated with the mainstream media at the moment, and my irritation centers around the way in which reporters and editors continue to use the word leak when they discuss James Comey's shared memos about his meetings with the so-called president. Sure, the so-called president doesn't look good in those memos (when does he ever?), but the thing is: a private citizen can share unclassified information with a friend. That's not leaking. Like, say, right now, friends, I'm going to share the information that Tom said, "See ya," and kissed me good-bye this morning before he left for work. Tom, not being a treasonous bastard, comes out looking pretty good in this revelation. But I still didn't ask him if I could tell you.

Ugh. Thanks for your patience in allowing me to complain.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

We made up for Tuesday's baseball washout by sitting through a doubleheader last night. The Sea Dogs played one horrible game and one mediocre game, Tom caught a glimpse of the Akron bullpen players pretending to take at-bats with a snow shovel, we decided that Slugger the mascot is likely to be called up to the majors (he does an impressive rendition of "YMCA"), and we are doubtful that extreme pogo-sticking (the between-innings entertainment) will ever catch on with audiences.

And then, after a late night at the park, I got up at 3:30 a.m. to drive Paul to the bus station, and now my brief holiday in Boy Land is over till August.

So today I will try to get some editing done, and try not to get too distracted by the Comey testimony, and try to find someplace to stow the Boy's suitcases, and try to find an interesting way to cook chicken, and try to get used to having no children again.

* * *
three people standing about
the same distance apart,
one's hand up and waving
     as he turns,
the other two wildly waving back. 
--from Len Roberts, "Our Son Leaves His Miniature Japanese Sand Garden Behind Because There Will Be No Room in the Dorm"

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Well, the game was a washout last night, but fortunately it's been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader tonight. So we'll enjoy a long baseball evening, and then at 4 a.m. tomorrow I'll haul the Boy off to the bus station so he can embark on his Canadian idyll. Until then, the doll-house will continue to be strewn with grotty tarps, sleeping bags, dry bags, duffle bags, rope, tumpline, wool socks, headlamps . . . you have the idea. A Boy needs a lot of mangy supplies in order to spend six weeks in the river wilderness.

I've started reading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies and thus far am pleased with it. I'd been avoiding her Tudor novels, mostly because I love Ford Madox Ford's The Fifth Queen so much and I didn't want to get myself involved in anyone else's Henry VIII fiction. But I like the way she's made Cromwell a sympathetic character, whereas Ford portrayed him as a monster. And her prose details are beautiful and evocative. In a way, her style reminds me of some of Jonathan Swift's poems. Swift, to my mind, had a matchless eye for street details, and Mantel can also conjure up place with great deftness and clarity.

A Description of the Morning

            Jonathan Swift

Now hardly here and there an hackney-coach,
Appearing, showed the ruddy morn’s approach.
Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own.
The slipshod prentice from his master’s door
Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirled her mop with dextrous airs,
Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep,
Till drowned in shriller notes of chimney-sweep,
Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet,
And Brickdust Moll had screamed through half the street.
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees;
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands;
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The wind is spitting rain and blustering steadily from the east. On a usual day I would enjoy this weather, but now I'm hoping it will clear out quickly because the three of us have Sea Dogs tickets for tonight. It will be our first baseball game of the season, and we've all been looking forward to laying eyes on Rafael Devers, Red Sox third-baseman-of-the-future . . . or, more likely, of the soon-to-be-present, given how horrible the current Sox third baseman is.

Yesterday I started a new editing project, which turned out to include a chapter by a poet I know, and I've also been offered the chance to edit a couple of Juniper Prize-winning books later in the summer: one in poetry, one in fiction. So that will be something to look forward to.

In the interstices between editing and boy chat, I've started experimenting with bread again. Because I can't fit my baking stone into our Easy Bake Oven, I've been struggling to produce a decent loaf of sourdough. Thus, I've decided to switch to a yeast version of focaccia, and I've added an egg to the dough (for a springier texture and better keeping qualities). So far I've made one loaf with parmesan cheese in the dough and another loaf filled with chopped kalamatas. Both were topped with coarse salt, chopped fresh herbs, red-pepper flakes, and olive oil. The parmesan version was the better of the two, but only because I should have added more olives to the second one.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yesterday, as I was cleaning the woodwork above the windows, I felt something snag at my duster--a silver, coin-sized talisman that turned out to be Catholic medal. Not being Catholic myself, I had to do some research to discover that it was a Saint Benedict medal, also known as "the devil-chasing medal."

In addition to featuring a portrait of the saint, the medal is decorated with a useful amalgam of protective Latin phrases and abbreviations as well as a Celtic cross, always handy when one needs to tap into one's pagan roots. My favorite of the abbreviated Latin phrases translates as "May the dragon never be my overlord!" I'm also fond of "Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!"

In addition to protecting me against the dragon, the medal is supposed to "destroy witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences," "impart protection to persons tempted, deluded, or tormented by evil spirits," "afford protection against storms and lightning," and "serve as an efficacious remedy for bodily afflictions and a means of protection against contagious diseases." All of this seems quite useful, so I think I will hang on to it.

Hey, dragon! You're not my overlord! Drink the poison yourself!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Well, here we are again, living in Boy Land. The holiday will be fleeting as the Boy is heading off to the Canadian wilderness later this week and won't return till August. But already the fruit bowl has been sucked dry; the living room has been transformed into a staging area for online devices, couch blankets, oversized shoes, empty glasses, and a mandolin; the cat has polished up his bratty flirtations; and facts and inventions are being loudly declaimed. We are all delighted.

This morning, however, the doll-house is quiet . . . except for the exasperated cat, who is annoyed that his Boy remains firmly asleep. Tom is sitting up in bed drinking coffee and reading a book. I am at the kitchen table drinking coffee and avoiding the world's daily dose of terrible news. Fear and trembling, fear and trembling, and yet, so far, the sun continues to rise, and the unfolding beach roses nod toward the light. I don't know how to speak, but a generalized grief weights my breath and my heartbeat. Humility and humiliation. The vast and the personal. Arson and ice.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Last night a line of thunderstorms blew through, and this morning the peninsula is draped in fog. The air is wringing wet; the marshy earth is a sponge. Late yesterday afternoon a friend and I walked through the Audubon refuge in Falmouth, and in and among the field grasses I saw a field of budding peonies. This was before the storms, when the sun shone and the birds sang. But I came home with my sneakers completely sopped: every swale and dip was a delta. The soil is saturated.

Today, the car goes to the car shop, and then I go to the high school writers' shop, and then home again to pull myself together for traveling tomorrow. I'll be leaving very early, so you probably won't hear from me again till Sunday.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My poem "Hearth Song" is up at Vox Populi this morning.

* * *

It's another wet day here, but a mild one, with the temperature already in the 50s and a thick, humid drizzle stifling the air. The pansies and lettuces on the deck are basking in the dampness, and the dog-walkers are uncowed.

I finished copying out Carruth's "The Sleeping Beauty" yesterday: it turned out to fill more than 60 document pages . . . not exactly a Paradise Lost-sized project but large enough. Yet, as always after a copying project, I feel bereft. What should I work on next? I may turn to Shakespeare. I've already done the sonnets, but I could copy out an entire play. I wonder what that would be like. I think I should choose one I haven't read or seen--say, Coriolanus. But I will give myself a few days to see if something else becomes more urgent.

Today I'll be beginning a new editing project, working on curriculum for my upcoming environmental-writing seminar, and doing a lot of laundry. Tomorrow I'm spending the morning with the ELL high schoolers on a writing and photography field trip; Friday I'm departing at the tail end of night to pick up my son at college. The days plod along, scuttle along, leap-frog along; they trip over their own shoelaces; they vault into the lead and collapse into sinkholes. "Nevertheless, blindly, we _____."